Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple lit up downtown Pittsburgh over the weekend as members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies united to celebrate their differences and show support for the community. They danced, sang and kissed under rainbow flags. This was Pittsburgh PrideFest 2018.
For two days this weekend, more than 170 vendors filled Liberty Avenue downtown with rainbow colors and pro-gay statements. One of the event’s organizers, Christine Bryan — the director of marketing and development at the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh — said it was a safe space for LGBTQ+ members and allies to support their rights.
“As an ally, I see people being treated wrong and I see people call our office who got fired from their job or got kicked out of their house and… this is a community that has had to put up with a lot of stigma for a long time, but in the end they’re just people,” Bryan said.
Bryan said she has friends and family who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and she always laughs overhearing them.
“I always listen to them and I’m like, ‘You guys have the same arguments as straight people do,’ it’s like, ‘Who’s going to take the dog out?,’ ‘Who’s going to get dinner?,’ ‘Who’s going to pay the electric bill?’ It’s all the same and, in the end, what the differences are are about love,” Bryan said. “I think the world needs a lot more love.”
PrideFest volunteer Howard Marr, 57, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is friends with Bryan and Gary Van Horn, the President of the Delta Foundation. He said he considers Pittsburgh’s Pride the best in the country and has come nine out of the last 10 years.
“I just think that it’s important to be involved. I think that too many of the young people don’t understand what we all went through to make this happen, to make Pride happen,” Marr said. “We went from being just gay to gays and lesbians to LGBT to LGBTQIA plus.”
Marr said that his family was “wonderful” and very accepting of him being gay — even coming to Pride and walking in parades. But he’s seen the bad side of things as well.
“I’ve seen way too many of my friends get thrown out of their homes and have to come live with me or live in the street. I’ve seen bad things happen to good people,” Marr said. “My family is just wonderful and most of my friends can’t say that. Most of the community can’t say that.”
Joelene Hester, 42, from Ross Township, came with her two sons, Simon, 10, and Jesse, 12. Despite Hester’s support of Pride, she said events like Pride shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.
“It feels like it should be a regular thing, like we shouldn’t have to have a Pride, we shouldn’t have to have a parade to get equal rights for people,” Hester said. “We shouldn’t have to have a Women’s March to get women’s rights. We shouldn’t have to have a Black Lives Matter movement to stop seeing black men die.”
Her son Simon said he likes coming “to celebrate who people are,” and Jesse said he likes Pride because “it’s a lot of fun.”
“I’ve always felt like people should just be accepted for who they are. I think I really stepped up my activism with the last presidential election,” Hester said. “The boldness of people who hate against other people — like they’ve just become emboldened.”
Hester also compared the rights of straight people with the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in terms of marriage, saying straight marriage was a “no brainer.” She said she was upset at the difference in marital freedoms that straight and gay people have experienced.
“Here I am, a straight woman, and I can get married and I can get benefits from my husband and I can take his last name,” Hester said. “Straight people get married every day and a lot of people say that gay marriage is gonna ruin the sanctity of marriage yet straight people get divorced all the time.”
One of the staples of Pittsburgh’s PrideFest, a vendor called “Inclusive Presbyterian Churches,” came to Pride for the 15th straight year to promote religious acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. East Liberty Presbyterian Church Deacon Liz Gonda passed out papers and talked to people walking past to share Inclusive Presbyterian Churches’ views.
“We’re here because we believed God loves everyone and we want everyone to know that we exist and that they should come if they are looking for a church community,” Gonda said.
Gonda, 39, said she wanted to be there to offer a new message from the religious community.
“I think it’s important because so many people have heard negative messages from church and so we can help to counteract that and make their experience with church more positive,” Gonda said.
Presbyterian Church U.S.A., one of three Presbyterian denominations, voted to allow gay marriage in March 2015, while the ELPC has been supporting the LGBTQ+ community at Pride for over a decade.
“They’re people just like us,” Gonda said. “Well, I’m a lesbian, so people just like me.”
Adam Croasmun, 22, from West Virginia said he came to Pittsburgh because West Virginia doesn’t have many Pride events and he loves the big city. He came out to celebrate his sexuality and who he is.
“[Pride] is amazing. We are all here celebrating each other, celebrating what we all stand for and being who we are,” Croasmun said. “Being accepted in society is what needs to happen and we’re getting more towards that.”
Croasmun also said it was important to stand up against the Trump administration, specifically Vice President Mike Pence.
“Maybe not President Trump but Vice President Pence is highly against the LGBTQ community, so I think it’s important to let them know that we’re not going anywhere and we will fight against them no matter what they do,” Croasmun said.